The connection between those two groups may not be immediately clear — but it comes down to this: when you make your web site accessible to visitors with disabilities, one extremely valuable by-product is that it also becomes much more search-engine-friendly. (Another side benefit is that it often has a positive effect for visitors using mobile devices, including iPhones, iPads and Blackberries; Web TV; and, other non-standard browsing technology.)
We’re sometimes asked, “Why design for visitors with disabilities?” Well, for one thing, it shows that your organization has progressive values, democratic principles, and an eye to the future — and with all the inaccessible web sites around, you can be sure that your disabled audience will take note that you value their presence. Another way of looking at it is that at least 10-20% of the population has is disabled — and when you add to that the numbers of older people with visual impairments (and our aging population), you’re cutting off a significant portion of your audience if you don’t factor in accessibility.
It’s hard to justify designing your web site any other way, really. That’s why we build all our sites to meet high accessibility standards.
We use a wide variety of techniques to ensure our clients’ web sites meet accessibility standards, and we will discuss with you the various standard levels (such as the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) standards, or the USA’s Section 508 guidelines) that are out there so you can make an informed decision about what’s going to work best for your site.
At a minimum, though, we will work to ensure that the code we produce is semantic and Web Standards compliant, that the (X)HTML and CSS we produce for you validate, and that your web site works on all modern browsers and computer platforms.
Put another way, we pride ourselves on our clean, ahead-of-the-curve coding skills, and on our ability to make your web site work for the broadest possible audience.
Who Do We Mean By “Disabilities”?
There are several specific groups that benefit from accessible web design. For example, people with:
- Visual impairments: Those with visual impairments (which range from colour blindness to total blindness) can have trouble interpreting images, video, and/or low-contrast designs. Some people use screen readers, or other non-visual browser software, to read content from web sites. When web sites aren’t coded using accessibility standards, they can create chaos when read through a screen reader. Even those who don’t require screen readers may prefer to have options such as increasing the font size easily — and with our aging population, text legibility is an issue for many.
- Physical disabilities: Many with physical disabilities have difficulty using a keyboard or mouse. By coding with an eye to accessibility, we can ensure that these visitors are able to access navigation and other functions (such as forms) as needed.
- Hearing impairments: If your site uses audio to communicate information, providing an alternative version in text can help your visitors with hearing impairments enjoy a richer experience.
- Intellectual and/or neurological disabilities: Although not every site can be made totally accessible to people with intellectual disabilities, it is well worth assessing whether your site’s navigation, layout and content can be simplified or otherwise reworked to help this group of visitors.
What Was That About Search Engines?
An exciting side-effect of designing your web site to meet accessibility standards is that search engines will have an easier time finding content they can use — which in turn means that people using search engines will have an easier time finding your web site when they search for related terms.
To use a simple example, including a text alternative for every image in your web site lets the person using a screen reader know what the image they are missing contains, while also allowing search engines to process the types of content your web site has pictures of, and that in turn gives search engines a better sense of what people will find when they visit. So if you have a page on your web site that’s all about cacti, and it includes several photos that are labeled as cactus pictures, your page’s search engine ranking for “cactus” and “cacti” will improve.
What Else Can You Do?
Although we can ensure your web site meets accessibility standards when it launches, web sites are not static entities. As your content changes over time, you’ll want to ensure it continues to be accessible to disabled visitors. If your web site uses a Content Management System (CMS), we can provide you with training and tips to ensure that you can maintain high accessibility standards on your web site.